A Jewel Box of Texture & Detail

Richness of detail, surprising use of space, thoughtfulness in design at every scale, and a broad but balanced use of fine materials, all executed with exquisite craft make this project a treasure.

Becoming Part of the Story

Sarah Susanka changed the way people think about the spaces they create to live in with her series of books about “The Not So Big House”. We have always championed her principles: that we need to value quality over quantity of space, imaginatively integrate function and style, make the best use of what we have before considering adding more, and above all, investing our attention in a thoughtful design process that assures we are pursuing the right project for the right reasons.

This Wolfworks project is the feature of a full chapter in her book “Inside the Not So Big House”, an honor that it deserves. It is a shining example of all that she champions – and that we set out to practice in every project we do, no matter what the scale.

 Simple Charm Doesn’t Give Anything Away

This charming facade suggests a simple, though no doubt lovely interior, similar to its neighbors in this walkable neighborhood of small homes near West Hartford Center. We created a diagonal entry path to replace the head-on sidewalk, allowing the creation of a buffering garden with a stone wall at its side and a small lawn with a simple low evergreen hedge. The unassuming exterior maintains the character of the neighborhood without the slightest affectation. But wait, there are plenty of surprises inside!

A Place to Linger and Visit

At the end of the entry path, just outside the front stoop we created this seat and fountain. This is perhaps the first hint at the surprises that await inside. Its a spot to sit and visit with neighbors – sort of a front porch. Water in the stone vessel gently overflows its smooth face and edges onto the loose Mexican beach stone bed providing the soothing sound of water spilling and the calming effect of its gently bubbling surface. This is both a place for quiet contemplation and pleasant conversation.

Now come inside!

Materials Knit the House Together

The first rooms we worked on in this house were this living room and the sunroom you can see beyond. The materials chosen – wood, metal, stone, and glass – and the simple cube shapes and slightly leaning forms would be carried through every room in the house as the scope of our remodel grew to include every detail of every room. The room, otherwise unchanged, has been transformed by a set of fairly simple gestures in the form of cabinetry, counters, and a mantle along one wall. And oh yes… lighting!

An Oasis of Calm

Many homes from this period have these wonderful little sunrooms pasted onto the south side of the home. By sinking seating to the floor we took advantage of the cozy scale of the room. In spite of the 8 windows surrounding the space, you still have a sense of privacy cuddling up at this level. A backlit shoji panel floats from the ceiling creating a warm glow at night. Small speakers are built into the frame, which is also the mount for discrete spotlights for art on the wall. A long counter concealing a radiator is both a place for plants and a cup of tea. A place to sink in and wash away a hectic day.

Dining in Style

When it comes to creating a special environment to celebrate the pleasures of sharing a meal we ask our dining rooms to honor those events with a style all their own. This extraordinary room features a custom designed table and unique display cabinets built by Wolfworks. The cabinets house collections of family china and glass as well as special craft pieces. The sliding glass panels in these cabinets obscure views of the more prosaic pieces while clear cubes in the panel finish allow the craft pieces to glitter and be seen. The ceilings are papered with a copper foil and the back wall, which the cabinets float away from, are papered with fabric. With the table set and a delicious meal before you this wonderful room helps make the moment become magic!

Tucked In

This room is a miracle of function and style. Within this tiny space we fit a powder room, a shower, and a linen cabinet, with room left over for a storage cabinet that opens to the hall outside. Taking our inspiration from the sculptural forms of Richard Serra (which you’ll see again upstairs at a much larger scale) the conelike space that contains the sink and floating mirror creates a space behind it for the linen and storage cabinets. Look into the mirror and you’ll just make out a rose colored glass partition that separates the toilet from our shower. To avoid creating a feeling of enclosure the pebbled tile floor of the room becomes the shower floor. The rich color palette includes the wood, the copper slate walls, the rose glass vessel sink, and the swirling pattern of the honed granite counter.

Kitchen Composition

It may be hard to believe but this is the existing kitchen with a few simple, but evocative and transforming, additions. We painted the existing cabinets and made new doors and wood side panels, effectively creating a totally new look. The doors have pebbled glass with wire screen behind them. The window above the sink was replaced with these four cubes (see the theme!) and a bold leaning frame. A free standing fridge was replaced with one that joins the look of the wood cabinet panels. A new downdraft exhaust behind the range is contained in a leaning form that supports the counter overhang where stools are drawn up to eat and visit. A new honed granite counter and copper slate backsplash area complete the transformation.

Opening Up the Room

Notice the series of white columns that define this family room space next to the kitchen. They are what remains of what had been the outside walls of this space. In the spaces beyond these columns we added a transition to the yard and a “back porch” space that you will see in the next images. Wire mesh “window boxes” with glass panels beneath create an open “rail” to the space overlooking the backyard, drawing it into this room. The TV and AV equipment below it are part of a pair of floating cabinets that buffer the path down to the yard and rear entry. These rooms all flow together while maintaining their discrete purpose and identity.

Making the Grade

This path to a new rear entry is one of two very modest additions we made to the house. This space replaces an awkward direct entry to the kitchen via steps to a wood deck from the rear of the house where a detached garage is located. Here we broke up the transition – a few steps outside, a landing with coat hooks, steps up to this gracious bench and a coat closet, and another step up to the kitchen – you never feel like you are climbing a stair. This space creates an expansive feel to the adjacent kitchen and family room while cabinetry provides both function and style while serving as a rail to this graduated path to the back yard.

Back Porch, Street Cafe?

Here’s the dilemma: how do you create a space that opens up easily to the backyard in a way that makes it easy to get to and visually enjoy when the yard is seven feet lower than the house. The answer is often a deck floating up at a level that overlooks every other yard with a stair down to your own yard that makes it difficult to reach or see, and thus barely used. We chose to create a room with large glass doors that could slide open to connect to the yard much like a street cafe. The room is set down from the main living space but remains connected – see those planters. The design also features subtly layered shapes that provide interest and reveal underlying structure. Beautiful furniture doesn’t hurt!

The Room Outside

We think that every home has the potential to have at least one more room that is part of the house, just not inside it. This outdoor room should be scaled like any other room and defined by both its relationship to the house and the outdoor features that surround it and from which it is created. In this case the small lot suggested a bamboo and thatch fence with rough cedar posts with leather binding. A water feature and garden surround the stone patio, sized for dining and visiting. A grove of pines in an adjoining yard becomes a borrowed view and backdrop for the ponds, where running water masks the sounds of the neighborhood. Yet another oasis of calm.

Night Light

What could be more inviting than a summer evening gathered at twilight in the sanctuary just outside your back porch. This “back porch” happens to open onto a patio with a flowing pond made cozy by the enclosing bamboo fence and plantings. This is the daily entry to this home, sheltered by the indented landing, up the few steps from the adjacent drive and detached garage. Just inside the sliding doors to the patio is the “back porch” – dropped from the main house level to make a direct connection with the yard – a space to step down from the house and connect with the delights of garden plantings that include bamboos and water lilies.

Bedroom Bliss

The concept for this bedroom space was to remove everything from the immediate space but the bed. The functions of dressing and associated storage are hidden behind shoji screes on either side of the room – his and hers to be kept neat or cluttered as each may choose without offending the other! What had once been a ceiling is removed to reveal the remarkable architectural form of what was once seen only in the attic. The custom designed bed frame and leather upholstered headboard are set against a linen drape that conceals a window otherwise out of sync with the modernist shape of the new bedroom, thus preserving the front exterior facade.

Maintaining Order

By providing personal dressing rooms immediately off the bedroom space we were able to establish the zenlike tranquility of a bedroom without any source of clutter or dual purpose. These closet spaces are jewels of organization in and of themselves, with custom dressers and clothes closets especially designed to accommodate drawers, shelves, hanging, hooks, and mirror. The doors to these spaces are “floating” shoji panels that slide out of the way behind the adjacent linen panels – themselves floating above the bedroom’s carpeted perimeter.

A Ceiling Lightscape

The ceiling above the bedroom is a sculptural assembly constructed from the architectural form of the pyramidal roof of the house, a custom skylight placed at its pinnacle, and the “torqued ellipse” wall form inspired by the sculptures of Richard Serra. The result is a space that is in a state of constant change; from sunrise to sundown the pattern of daylight thru the skylight creates an everchanging pattern of light, only to be followed by the moon’s cycles, and finally, the rooms own pallette of lighting effects controlled by a system that allows a selection of “scenes” to suit the mood. This is the crowning jewel in this jewel box of a home.

A Bathroom Bathed with Light

Above the tub in this compact yet unconfining bath space is a skylight that, while hidden from view, drapes the space in natural light. The vanity counter floats away from the walls and appears suspended above the cabinet below, with its long stainless rail serving as a towel bar. Likewise, the medicine cabinet floats off the mosaic tiled wall, with its inset shelf niche allowing counter clutter to find an orderly home. A light soffit above provides the functional lighting along with an ambient glow to the room. The door to this space, like the french doors that open off the hall to the bedroom, are made up of five horizontal frosted glass panels and feature sleek modern handles – just the kind of finishing touch that you recognize and enjoy using day after day.

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